Jenny La Fleur
the exhausting mental exercises of 1912 - Jenny La Fleur
adventures in costuming
jennylafleur
jennylafleur
the exhausting mental exercises of 1912


A 1912 Evening Dress. I have a very love-hate relationship with the idea of this garment. It's what got me serious about becoming a proficient seamstress and turned me into costumer in high school and it remains my Mt Everest of costuming. A Mt Everest that I have never gotten past base camp with.

I've tried to make my ultimate Titanic Evening dress a couple of times over the years, all ending in failure and defeat - the latest being the Peacock. Even my day-wear forays into this period have left me feeling "eh" if not in complete despair. I mean they were pretty but they weren't "right". I was missing the mark in some way.

Why does this style (theoretically a flattering one on my body type) and period construction (that I find so fascinating), cause me so much frustration, heartache and exhausting mental exercise? I don't know. What I do know is that the definition of insanity to doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results when what you want are different results. It is time to change not the Mt I want to climb but how I prepare for and approach it.

So as I've been waffling back and forth the last 6 months about what to do with the Peacock (start over from scratch, carry on and fix all the problems (about the same amount of work), salvage the pieces for another project, burn it), I've been doing lots of research and re-thinking how I *think* about this period.

My conclusions?

1.) My heart is not in the Peacock anymore and I'm ready to let it go. I still want a "Peacock" themed costume someday and while it may have some of the supplies or ideas from this one it will be a vastly different project next time around. It's okay. I learned a lot from this project and I thoroughly enjoyed all the hours of beading, it was my happy place for a very long time. A huge lesson I've learned here is that sometimes the dress doesn’t need to be finished to be a success.

2.) I'm not going to make my Ultimate Titanic Dress on the first try. How do I know this? Because I'm never completely happy with any garment/style until the second or third go. It took a while but I'm finally okay with the idea of not having my "Ultimate" dress for the 100th anniversary year. It was the finial death-nail in the Peacock's coffin - it needs to be an "Ultimate" dress. Instead for the various 1912-2012 events this year I'm opting for pretty and achievable (I hope!), a building block to get me on my way up that mountain. This a marathon, not a sprint.

3.) So a new dress! I have to use fabrics from the stash. For my Ultimate dress I can buy new "special" stuff but for this go I need to use what I have.

4.) I need to build my Evening gown from the inside-out. I think the inner structure of this gown is the key and examining a few extant examples from the period up close (thanks isabelladangelo!) seems to confirm that they were built from the inside out. Most of you probably figured this out ages ago but you see I get too excited about the PRETTY and want to rush off and start beading/draping/cutting pretty fabric right now! One of my big mistakes with the Peacock was rushing the important stuff so I could start on the fun stuff. I just assumed everything would magically work out in the end. It didn't.

And so I begin...

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Comments
bauhausfrau From: bauhausfrau Date: January 4th, 2012 03:18 am (UTC) (link)
I hear ya. I have a lot of the same problems with the time period that you do. And I think you're right about construction too, the foundation is key

I've got a plan in mind now, the question is can I achieve it?

jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC) (link)
I'm so glad it's not just me! I've got a plan in mind now, the question is can I achieve it? I'm in the same place now too - crossing fingers we can do it! :>
fancyfrocks From: fancyfrocks Date: January 4th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC) (link)
I'm so sorry the peacock dress didn't work out for you, but it sounds like some great revelations. I usually have a fit and mentally beat it up in a million ways, but your revelation sounds so healthy and so progressive. Big kudos to you! Whatever you make I know it will be wonderful.
It's such a deceptive time period. The lingerie dresses and blouses are so unstructured, but the other ones are so the opposite! Always that little under bodice thing. You're totally right- that's the key to the good teens look. It's the boring part, but it's the canvas to get everything to look pretty on :)
xoxo
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC) (link)
Thanks! Deceptive is the right word! It's a highly transitional period too, which makes for strange variations andw ays of doing things construction wise. Having done some Victorian stuff last year has been helpful (when in doubt go back the period before) but yeah the foundation is key I think.
trystbat From: trystbat Date: January 4th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC) (link)
Because I'm never completely happy with any garment/style until the second or third go.

Y'know, that's a very wise observation, & one that I need to knock into my head too.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC) (link)
Yeah I need to remember this fact, and cut myself some slack, more often myself.
mandie_rw From: mandie_rw Date: January 4th, 2012 04:02 am (UTC) (link)
You're right; the mental exercises of a 1912 evening dress are exhausting! I've been thinking about the design of my own dress for ages, and it's still not quite there. And you've definitely got a point about not making it perfectly on the first go - I never do, either, and that's an especially good thing to keep in mind for 19-teens!

And good luck with your new start!
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 01:51 pm (UTC) (link)
Thanks! Yeah it has been kinda nice to see others struggling with this project too, just to know that I'm not alone. Its the one nice thing about the 100th anniversary - almost everyone I know is making a 1912 evening dress at the same time. So helpful and so much support!
unclrashid From: unclrashid Date: January 4th, 2012 06:09 am (UTC) (link)
You probably already know about the fabric, but I've had problems with this period, also, for my customers. I've found that you just have to have the right fabrics. Nothing stiff or crispy. It has to be all soft and drapey or soft and floaty, stiff and crispy fabrics end up looking hideaously bulky in this period.

I had a client who insisted on a lovely but semi-crisp antique satin (in spite of my protests) and we just couldn't make it work.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 01:54 pm (UTC) (link)
Yeah that was one of my big mistakes on the Peacock - I had the perfect peacock fabric but completely the wrong fabric for the teens. I tried to beat it into submission but it just didn't work.

I forgot costuming rule #4782: never fight your fabric. The fabric will win.

:>
quincy134 From: quincy134 Date: January 4th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC) (link)
I'm ridiculously intimidated by this period, and thus having some mental blocks in getting started. So I feel your pain. I am very sorry the peacock has not worked out! You have some great thoughts here about how to turn the project around, though, so I'm looking forward to following along.
isabelladangelo From: isabelladangelo Date: January 4th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC) (link)
I have a few garments from the period if you'd like to come over and take a look at them. It helps to make sense of the construction.
quincy134 From: quincy134 Date: January 4th, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC) (link)
Oooh, thanks for the offer! I would like to take a look.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC) (link)
I think you are right to be a little intimidated, it's a deceptively complicated style. I think mostly because it's transitional. Figuring out where the Victorian construction techniques end and what would become the 1920s techniques begin in this hybrid style is a challenge.

A key seems to be the fabrics. Everything is soft and drapey (little-to-no taffeta and even the rare velvets are drapey silk ones), with an emphasis on varying textures and in layers. Usually at least three fabrics in a dress. It least that is what I'm seeing.

I think it's achievable though - especially with practically the whole of the costuming world making this gown at the same time. We'll have no lack of inspiration and support in the next few months, which will make all the difference I think.

You can do it!
quincy134 From: quincy134 Date: January 5th, 2012 12:35 am (UTC) (link)
Thanks, Jenny Rose, especially the advice about the fabrics. The drapey-ness makes total sense, but I don't think I had really taken that in yet.
isabelladangelo From: isabelladangelo Date: January 4th, 2012 12:25 pm (UTC) (link)
I know the dress will still be breathtaking and you'll do fine on this one. :-)

BTW, I have yet another new piece to my collection. This is a black lace dress from the period. It's interesting because it has all the right cuts for the early teens but whoever made it was way into the arts and crafts movement of the period.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC) (link)
Thanks for the encouragement! I feel better prepared at least, with contingency plans for every design element. :>

Ooh... that does sound interesting.
From: silkfrocks Date: January 4th, 2012 01:11 pm (UTC) (link)
As an artist, sometimes the mistakes we make turn into wonderful creations. Also, perhaps you may have romanticized this dress to the point its unachieveable in reality, theoretically, conceptually sure but the execution fails because the ideal is unrealistic. Im only talking form the point of an art teacher, what do I know (shrugs shoulders) Hug.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 4th, 2012 02:12 pm (UTC) (link)
As an artist, sometimes the mistakes we make turn into wonderful creations. So true - some of my favorite costumes are ones that were the results of mistakes or circumstances beyond my control. I was hoping the Peacock would be one of these but no.

Also, perhaps you may have romanticized this dress to the point its unachievable in reality, theoretically, conceptually sure but the execution fails because the ideal is unrealistic. I've definitely thought about this. I think for me it's partly physic-ing myself out too much this long-standing dream (and therefore setting myself up for failure in many ways) and partly not excepting my skill level in this period. I just don't have the skills (yet) to make this vision in my head. That is part of the reason for my new titanic Dinner dress - to develop the skills to make what is in my head.

I learned this lesson long ago with other periods/projects but I’ve had a bit of a blind spot with this one, probably because it is an ideal.
peacockdress From: peacockdress Date: January 4th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC) (link)
First of all, don't be discouraged that the 1912 stuff is complex. A curator at the Museum of London tells me she has a heck of a time working out how costume of that period works at all, and they're just trying to fasten and unfasten existing dresses!

Second, I absolutely agree that a costume can be wildly successful even if it is never completed. I've found that ALL of my biggest learning experiences in the bridal business were the ones that went horribly wrong and crashed and burned - the more spectacularly, the better.

Thirdly,

I'm never completely happy with any garment/style until the second or third go.

YES. I realised some time ago that I had effectively made the same dress multiple times in the past, trying to get happy with the style, and I didn't even know I was doing it.

Fourthly, no Ultimate structure is built without building blocks. You're very much on the right track, IMHO.

Fifthly, inner structure first - yes. Like a skeleton onto which the pretty stuff is built!

This is a great post. Well done for some great insights.
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 5th, 2012 02:41 am (UTC) (link)
Thanks so much for the encouragement and confirmation that I'm on the right track! I feel much better knowing that I'm not the only one who struggles with understanding this era - it really can be mind-bending at times!
girliegirl32786 From: girliegirl32786 Date: January 5th, 2012 02:15 am (UTC) (link)
I'm so glad you've finally come to terms with the peacock dress. You know my motto - If it doesnt make you happy, dont do it. *hugs*
jennylafleur From: jennylafleur Date: January 5th, 2012 02:43 am (UTC) (link)
*hugs* Thanks for all your support and being a listening ear and sounding board as I worked through all these issues. I'm sure you got very tired of my waffling and whining but it really was helpful! *more hugs*
girliegirl32786 From: girliegirl32786 Date: January 5th, 2012 03:08 am (UTC) (link)
No, I didnt get tired of it. I completely understand the mental hoops we put ourselves through.
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